Stress is as harmful to the human body and psyche as smoking, overeating, lack of exercise, or binge drinking and has equally fatal results if left unchecked for years. Stress is just a symptom of the disease, however. What’s really wrong and the source of all the stress in our lives is our workaholism—the inability to say no, to live balanced lives, to prioritize our health and ourselves, our sanity. Myths can be just as deadly as any of the aforementioned harmful behaviors, because we fall into the trap of believing them and overlook the root cause of our problems.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“One of the myths about workaholics is that they are very productive and they do good work. Myths are confusing because we often act as if they were true, even when we know that they are not.
Contrary to popular belief, we workaholics and rushaholics are often not very productive, and we often do sloppy, uncreative work. Our overextended deadlines become more important than the quality of our work. We suffer, our work suffers and our families suffer.
Another myth about workaholism is that it is just stress and burn-out and can be controlled with stress-reduction techniques. Every drunk has wanted to blame something else for her/his drinking and has fervently wanted to believe there was a way to control it, often with disastrous results. Workaholism is an addiction. It is a progressive, fatal disease that rules our lives. Fortunately, an addiction is the only progressive, fatal disease from which recovery is guaranteed if we do our work.”
It pains me to write this, because I consider myself an excellent employee and I strive to excel in my career, but Anne is correct: Workaholics are very unproductive much of the time. How can anyone be expected to operate at peak efficiency when they are tired, stressed out, and overextended? I often find myself stretched too thin and facing down looming deadlines that fill me with anxiety to dedicate the time and attention to my work that it deserves. On the one hand, I have shifted from a place of demanding total perfection from myself to accepting “good enough” results and moving on, but to Anne’s point, there have definitely been times when I have glossed over tasks that required more effort simply for a lack of bandwidth.
To Anne’s second point, stress and burnout are simply symptoms of the disease of workaholism. I remember at my peak workaholism, I would break down once every few months over the sheer amount of tasks I had taken on for my team and my lack of time and energy to complete them all. This is written now with the power of hindsight. At the time, I simply thought that I was a failure for being incapable of handling the demands placed on me. I blamed myself for being inefficient and weak. To compensate, I tried all sorts of stress-reduction techniques and time management hacks, unsurprisingly to no success. My husband continued to remind me that I was actually in control, and by agreeing to more work than any one person could reasonably do, I was setting myself up for failure and killing myself in the process. He gently suggested I set more reasonable deadlines or say no. I didn’t put the work in or take his advice seriously until I wound up in therapy, and what do you know? My therapist said the same thing. Since then, I have worked very hard to recognize my workaholism for what it truly is and take steps to address the real problem of my disease rather than just the symptoms. Moving to a new team gave me a fresh start for setting more realistic expectations as well. Recovery is a long and challenging path that requires you to put in work every. single. day. But I know at this end of the long, winding journey I will be healed.